Chapter 5: Acceptance
The final chapter, excluding the paperback afterword – which I’ll not be covering – opens by discussing three sites of truth in contemporary life: political commitments, the economic sphere and scientific knowledge. Zizek points towards the inarticulation these generate; that, despite the wealth of information and significantion there is a distinct lack of ‘quilting’, or linking the information to a broader, ‘Master’, narrative. Hence the farce of ethical capitalism alongside the cacophony of science and seemingly indeterminate risks. It is in this void, or ‘worldlessness’ as Badiou would put it, that the communist project should be re-imagined. Zizek writes:
“This is the true legacy of ’68, at the core of which wa a rejection of the liberal-capitalist system, a no o the totality of it, best encapsulated in the formula Soyons relistes, demandons l’impossilne! The true utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely; the only way to be truly “realistic” is to think what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossble. How are we to prepare for this radical change, to lay the foundations for it? The leat we can do is to look for traces of the new communist collective in already existing social or even artistic movements. What is tehrefoer needed today is a refined search for “signs coming from the future,” for indications of this new radical questioning of te system.” (363)
What follows ias an outline of suggestions for how to think about this new movement. The suggestions are of varying quality and, while you’ve probably cottoned onto this alredy, Zizek’s suggestions aren’t so much about what we should call it or ‘what the logo should be but more connected to the sort of music it should structurally resemble and so on (Eric Satie, if you’re curious).
It’s certainly good to get these perspectives and, regardless of what you think of Zizek, I think there is something kind of ballsy about making the case for discipline and political violence when you’re a famous public intellectual and carried by a pretty major publishing house.
The first precept concerns social immersion. Consistent with the theological references earlier and, coming late to the anti-globalization legacy, Zizek writes, referencing Kafka:
”The first lesson of Kafka’s “Josephione” is that we have to endose a shamelessly total form of immersion into the social body, a shared ritualistic social performance that would send all good liberals into shock with its totalitarian” intensity … which is the “vehicle for the collectivity’s affirmation of itself.”” (371)
There is then a defense of this from potential aspects of “totalitarianism”, citing the emancipatory aspects of these practices against the liberal reading of authoritarianism in any mass ritual. He also returns to violence, discussing the familiar topic of the short-circuit between structural violence – starvation, poverty and so on – and subjective or terroristic violence, citing the Naxalite Rebellion as an example of one passing into the other.
Then we get the libidinal economy of such a subject. Here, Zizek surprises, touching lightly (as in: not explicitly) on the points about the post-traumatic subject in the last chapter:
“once I forfeit my right to a “normal life,” I also, in a way, forfeit my right to “bare life,: I cut off my link with mere survival, with clinging to life for life’s sake, and koin the :living dead,” become some who, in renouncing his right to life, thereby overcomes his fear of death.” (397)
This survival point neatly rhymes with an earlier observation that, among other things, the aim of the radical collective wherein survival needs would be accounted for automatically, engendering freedom. As Zizek writes:
“…the disciplined collecive leads not to some Dionysian uniformity, but rather clears the slate and opens up the field for authentic idiosyncrasies. More precisely, what such passionate immerion suspends is not primarily the “rational Self” bu the reign of the survival (self-preservation_ instinct on which, as Adorno knew, the functioning of our “normal” rational egos is based.” (273).
Overall then, we have calls for a disciplined collective, taking structural violence seriously and, in turn, rejecting completely the co-ordinates of the capitalist life-plan. There is certainly more detail in the chapter- to stress an obvious point – that I can really relay in souch a cursory summary, and is linked in turn to Zizek’s theology: reflecting on a God who has deserted us, leaving us fully responsible for humanity, designated here as the ‘holy ghost’ both here and during his youtubeable talk at occupy wall street.
I think this chapter works excellently for three reasons. Firstly, it makes some sort of use out of the typically anecdotal stories about ethical capitalism, chocolate laxatives, and so on, and winds them up into something broader. Secondly, it engages in dangerous thinking which sidesteps the normal prospective proposals from academics like a Tobin Tax and ‘more emphasis on the things that are really important’. Instead, we get a sense of something that is not yet overdetermined and toothless. Finally, and perhaps most of all. it’s a rebuttal towards the audience who consider him conformist and establishement, as well as a follow up to his accusation that his fans wanted a ‘revolution without a revolution’.
Overall Grade: A
That brings us to the conclusion of this section. Living in the End Times is a good – though hardly great – Zizek book which makes some very shaky connections and some altogether compelling ones. It’s chewy: the arguments are nuanced but valuable, and despite a certain degree of repetition, Zizek manages to bring in something baldly normative, though dressed in obscure references and difficult language, instead of an easier and more familiar reliance on reinterpretation.
Next week, I’ll be revisiting Zizek with a discussion of the Parallax View. Also in the pipeline is ‘What if Latin American Ruled the World’ by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera. If there are any books you would like to see in this section, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. In the meantime, look forward to hip-hop analysis, a review of Mic Righteous’ new mixtape (you can download it here, donations recommended) and some reflections on Muhammad Ali. Hopefully, some reading of SOPA and PIPA in the context of ‘cultural commons’, as opposed to ‘unintended consequences’ and censorship will also emerge over the weekend, if time would only have the decency to relax a bit.